Visitation Rights

Last night I was hanging out on the couch, while DJ played video games on my living room television. I don’t quite remember what obnoxious thing I was doing—I do remember, however, that it was, indeed, deliberately obnoxious—but it prompted DJ to burst, “You make me want to drink.”

“Then you should never have children,” I replied.

A few weekends ago, I babysat my six year old friend Robert while his mother was away on a business trip. It was the longest they had even been separated. Naturally I was a little anxious about watching the little captain under such new and trying circumstances. Originally I agreed to stay from Friday after he got out of school and until Sunday afternoon. That Tuesday things change. Arrangements had been made for Robert sleep over at his friend’s house on Friday and to go to the circus Saturday morning. Officially, my duties wouldn’t start until Saturday afternoon. Great! Or so I thought.

Children have a habit of getting sick right before a big, fun event. Robert’s friend is just like any other kid in that regard. Friday morning at ten, I woke up to an emergency phone call from from Robert’s friend’s mother. Apparently, the friend was at the doctors office with a temperature of 102. The sleep-over and circus would have to wait for another, healtier week. So I frantically got ready to take the next bus in town. (Mind you, it takes about 2 hours to get from here to there by public transportation.) I get to the apartment with some time to spare, so I sit on the couch to write emails until Robert gets home. Then phone rings again. It’s the friend’s mother. Her son felt better and the boys were really looking forward to the sleep-over, so if I didn’t mind, maybe Robert could stay at his friend’s house for the night after all. I agreed. Who am I to deny Robert some quality time with his friend—especially if it frees up my Friday night? Still, it’d take another two hours to get home if that was my plan. My cell phone rang one more time. This time it was DJ.

DJ’s grandmother volunteers her time and her house to a pricy kick-drugs-through-prayer rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge, and their graduation happened to be that night. Naturally, DJ’s grandmother wanted to be there. One of women she sponsors was graduating—for a second time. Anyway, the whole situation made DJ feel a little uneasy and he was looking for company. Because they had to pick me up, we were an hour late to the ceremonies, cutting the total time there to only about two hours.

I was back in Cambridge by noon the next day, just in time for Robert’s return home. Now I’m not related to Robert. Even still, I couldn’t help but feel like a divorced dad picking up his kid for a weekend visit. First they schedule me three days with him. Then they take that away and build up his expectations with a promise to the circus. But then they steal that from him, but keep him for the time it would take to go to the circus. After that, they drop him off with me. By this time Robert feels entitled and demands that we do “something fun.” I was set up for failure. Maybe that’s what the system intends and why it works so well.

Let me tell you how happy he was when we missed the last showing of Sharks 3D at the New England Aquarium due to some unforeseen construction on the Blue Line. We ended up on a bus that took us to Wood Island by mistake. Robert refused to sleep until we did “something fun,” which translates into something expensive and outside of the apartment. There was no way I was going to take him somewhere “fun” at 8:30pm on a Friday night. Instead, I suggested we play a game: “You pretend to fall asleep. You don’t have actually to sleep—just convince me that you’re asleep.”

Robert is shrewd, though. He wanted fun and he let me know it. “Josh, I know this is just a pyschological trick,” he reminded me. “I’m not going to bed until we do something fun.” I don’t easily give in to ultimatums, especially not from six year olds who are out of line. He has a bed time and he knows it. So I sat by his bed in the dark silently for 90 minutes. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The next day we did see Sharks 3D. We arrived and had purchased our tickets by 10am. We waited in the lobby (with a painful detour near Old City Hall in between) until show time at 2:20pm. I read him some Wittengstein on the bus ride home. I don’t think he appreciated it much.

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